By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, January 21, 2016 – Conservations here are up in arms with local police whose poor handling of a suspected poaching case involving two Zambians resulted in the pair escaping with a lesser charge of contravening immigration laws.
The Zambians were reportedly lost for 10 days at the Zambezi National Park before appearing at a safari lodge in the resort town recently.
Bhejane Trust, an NGO that monitors poaching activities at the country’s nature reserves, cautioned the poor handling of the case by police would undo good work being done by parks authorities who are fighting to end the scourge.
“They (Zambians) were handed over to Criminal Investigation Department who inexplicably believed their story that they had got off a speed boat on the river and got lost,” said the Trust on its Facebook page.
“They were sentenced to three months on immigration charges.
“However, there has been serious complaints lodged about this bundled case, and it is being revisited, and it is still hoped they will bring poaching charges against them, which would bring nine years (in jail).”
Bhejane Trust also noted the increase in Zambian poachers roaming Hwange National Park and the Zambezi National Park in Matabeleland North Province.
However, the conservationists said recent events showed that Zimparks rangers were winning the war against Zambian poachers.
“On Saturday, a Zambezi Parks anti-poaching team picked up a spoor of Zambian poachers near Kazungula,” the trust said.
“They immediately started to follow while stop groups were deployed.
“The Zambians got wind they were followed and headed for the river.
“The rangers caught up with the Zambians at 8:30 that night, before they reached the river, and opened fire.”
The suspected poachers managed to escape but they left behind all their kit and four tusks weighing about 60 kilogrammes.
“Although no Zambians were killed and captured, their mission was massively unsuccessful, and they barely escaped with their lives – a warning to all Zambians,” Bhejane Trust said.
It said surveillance had been set up along the Zambezi River to keep the poachers at bay.
Bhejane Trust also noted security improvements in Hwange National Park following a recent change in the management team, adding that Zimparks rangers had managed to repel a number of poachers from the neighbouring country.
Close to 100 elephants have been killed through cyanide poisoning by poachers in Zimbabwe’s nature reserves since last year.
Zimparks has often been criticised for failing to bring the crimes under control, with the government blaming sanctions for the inefficiency.